The term “alternative medicine” can have a pretty vague definition. The term includes practices that are science-based and many that are not. Science and medicine, as a rule, are not anti-alternative medicine. However, since pharmaceuticals and invasive procedures are so frequently seen in the medical field by patients, science and medicine are sometimes seen as the enemy by those who support alternative medicine. They are not the enemy. And, in fact, some practices that fly by beneath the label "alternative medicine" are anything but natural or safe.
An Alternative to Traditional Medicine
I believe that if the practice isn’t dangerous and if the condition isn’t dire, then, by all means, experiment with alternative approaches to an ailment first. Practices like meditation, regular fitness, plant-heavy diets, mindful hydration, and many others are often seen as another part of alternative medicine. However, these practices demonstrable positive impacts on wellness, as evidenced by scientific studies. I believe in engaging in these practices always, no matter the underlying condition. But when it comes down to self-medicating with potentially hazardous supplements or practices that take a casual approach to an urgent condition, the line on alternative medicine must be drawn.
Take for instance physical detoxification from alcohol in the case of severe alcoholism. Withdrawal from alcohol can be life-threatening for the individual if not handled correctly. Handling the physical symptoms of alcohol detoxification often requires medical supervision and intervention. To think that meditation or echinacea supplements can pull a person away from conditions like delirium tremens with ease is not only misguided, it is dangerous.
Drawing the Line
Supporting alternative medicine should not be a black and white topic. Since alternative medicine can encompass virtually any type of treatment that isn’t a part of traditional medical practices, a person would be both gullible and naive to think that anything that calls itself alternative medicine is safe and superior to traditional medicine. In a less literal sense, consider the process of general detoxification and recovery for addicts.
Everyone has heard an anecdotal story about an addict who "simply" quit cold-turkey one day without any assistance and never looked back again. Addicts who are able to do this are incredibly fortunate of course. However, they do not come out on the other side of addiction with the kinds of resources available that addicts who went through a recovery program have. Moreover, the assertion that a person can use "mind over matter" thinking exclusively to overcome something as serious – physically and mentally—as drug and alcohol addiction is a risky one. Many addicts who attempt this cold-turkey method find that they cannot do it without a support network and go on to face dangerous and sometimes fatal relapses because of it.
If you’re prone to all-or-nothing thinking, you may want to reconsider your stance as it may jeopardize your recovery. I’m a proponent of treating ailments simply and naturally when possible, but I’m completely against dismissing science-based traditional medicine when a person’s life—or recovery—is at stake.